LITERARY KEY TERMS

Certain terms are central to textual production and analysis and have come under particularly close scrutiny in the 20th critical discourse. Bearing in mind the “perpetual equivocation and ambiguity of words” and the “variations of signification arising from context”, the terms indicated will carry the following meanings in this course:
AUTHOR: Roland Barthes proclaimed ‘the death of the author’ in a 1968 essay in which he questioned the traditional assumption that a text is directly and solely traceable to a single author for meaning and production, in short, for authority. Poststructuralist critical practice contests the category of the ‘author’ as omniscient or the single source of power in relation to a text. Meaning is not fixed by or located in the author’s ‘intention’, whatever that may be. As Terry Eagleton asks, “Even if critics could obtain access to an author’s intention, would this securely ground the literary text in a determinate meaning?” What poststructuralist critics question is a text’s reliance on “a single self-determining author, in control of his meanings, who fulfils his intentions and only his intentions” For Eagleton, textual meaning cannot be ascribed to authorial intention because it is “the product [] of language, which always has something slippery about it”.
DISCOURSE: means an instance of language or utterance involving the speaker/writer-subject and reader/listener-object. Discourse is this located in and inflected by its social and ideological environment: “the term [discourse] denotes language in actual use within its social and ideological context and in institutionalized representations of the world called discursive practices” Theoretically, discourse may include any form of utterance. 20th theory, notably through Michel Foucaults’s work, has stressed the collusion (confabulación) of discourse with power: “discourse (the articulated categories of thought) orders a knowledge along lines that produce subjects open to power’s control”.
LITERATURE: While ‘literature’ has traditionally been associated with works that conform to the main genres –epic, drama, lyric, novel, short story- as well as with projects of national, indeed hegemonic, consolidation, in the 20th, a work of ‘literature’ has come to be seen as dependent above all on its linguistic properties, as a work whose language draws attention to itself through specific use and quality of language –its ‘literariness’, as the Russian Formalists defined it: “literature is a kind of writing which … draws attention to itself, flaunts (hace gala de) its material being, as statements like ‘Don’t you know the drivers are on strike’ does not” (Eagleton). The imaginative (as opposed to critical) texts on this course, insofar as they organize language in a way that foregrounds (pone de relieve) the language itself, can be said to be works of literature, from the densely figurative blank verse of King Lear to the apparent simplicity of language of Linda Pastan’s “love poem”.
LOGOCENTRISM: The impossible but irresistible search for a fundamental Truth or Logos. Logocentric structures are organized through a series of binary oppositions: mind/ matter, light/ darkness, presence/ absence, etc. The first term is positive and the second , generally absent has negative connotations.
READER: Structuralism and poststructuralist theory has incorporated the reader and the act of reading as elements needed for a text to constitute itself. Roland Barthes goes so far as to theorize about the ‘death of the author’ and assign a ‘writing’ role to the reader. A text which is ‘writerly’ or scriptible engages the reader in a process that enables the production of meaning(s) from the ‘open’ play of possibilities inherent in the text. By contrast, a text which is ‘readerly’ or lisible is that to which the reader’s response is passive. Many poststructuralist critics contend, however, that all texts are in theory ‘writerly’, their ‘open play of possibilities’ dependent on the reader’s commitment to engage with them. The complex negotiation with the text entailed by the act of reading will further require awareness of the reader’s positionality “through culture, history, education, and do on“and of the fact that “every text has a singularity for which the act of reading should be responsible, and to which the act of reading should respond.”
SIGN: Saussure noted that every sign (a basic unit of communication such as a letter or a word) comprised two components: The signifier, or the materially identifiable element such as a sound or visible mark. The signified or the conceptual referent of the sign. According to Saussure, the relationship between signifier and signified is not fixed but arbitrary and based on social convention. English speakers ‘agree’ that the word/signifier horse refers to a certain signified: a type of four-footed animal with hooves, a tail and a mane which is prone to being ridden by humans or used as a beast of burden. On the other hand, the signifier Spaniards use for this particular signified is caballo. The division of the sign, as well as its arbitrary relation to reality, is central to 20th century theory of language and literature.
SUPPLEMENTARITY. - Quasi-concept which, as Jacques Derrida points out, means both an addition and a replacement, developed in response to Rousseau’s understanding of writing as a possible signification, indicating the work of difference within the self-same. The supplement is supposed to act as an addition or complement which completes. In so doing, the supplement is meant to cover up a lack, but, in being a supplement, in producing the meaning of the ‘original’, it disrupts the very idea of the original as self-sufficient. The supplement occupies the middle point between total absence and total presence. It is secondary to something original or natural.

TEXT: With the modern critical emphasis on works of literature as being made of language and form, there has been an increased parallel use of the term “text”, meaning the actual wording of a work of literature. Structuralism and poststructuralism have taught us to engage with reality as ‘textual’: Everything is ‘text’, therefore, and can be read as such, as something made up of signs, organized along patterns of relationships among signs and sign clusters, and determined by conventions of meaning.